Three takeaways from No. 20 Maryland men’s basketball tight win over Hofstra

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

No. 20 Maryland men’s basketball used a dramatic final minute to come back against the Hofstra Pride, 69-67. Guard Ian Martinez clinched the game with two free throws with just four seconds remaining. 

Eric Ayala had 14 points to lead Maryland’s scorers. Fatts Russell and Ian Martinez both had 13 points as well. 

For Hofstra, Jalen Ray had a game-high 18 points, and made some tough shots. Zach Cooks had 13 points, and Aaron Estrada had 12 to fill out the leaders for the Pride. 

Here are some of my takeaways of the Terps’ narrow win. 

They have to solve their Qudus Wahab problem. 

In Maryland’s first two games, Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab became the first Maryland player since Steve Francis in 1998 to score 17 or more points in his first two games. Since then, Wahab has faced a constant stream of quick double teams from small-ball lineups. 

For a player who lives on the low block, Wahab has been unable to get many touches. That trend reached a new extreme on Friday, with Wahab playing just eight total minutes. The center never left the bench for the entire second half. 

Head coach Mark Turgeon was quick to shoot down any concern that Wahab would have a reduced role after the game. 

“[Wahab] is still our starting center,” Turgeon said. 

He cited the fact that Hofstra had a smaller, quicker roster that gave the big man trouble. Wahab obliged to sit out the second half as Turgeon employed a variety of smaller lineups that featured Julian Reese, Donta Scott and even Xavier Green at center. Turgeon 

Still, it would be beneficial for Maryland to figure out a way to get Wahab rolling again. For a team that struggles offensively, Wahab’s soft hands and finishing ability are vital. Without him, the offense can get stagnant, and the team struggles to score. Maryland shot just 41.7% on Friday, and 37.5% in the second half without Wahab. 

The Terps or Wahab need to find a solution to the double teams and a way to help protect him on the defensive end. He is too important to the team to get schemed out of the game. 

They don’t have an identity offensively

The offensive identity somewhat stems from the front court issues that Wahab seems to be the center of, but spreads out to the rest of the team. In the half-court offense, the Terps don’t seem comfortable. Ayala is their leader and one of their best scorers, but he had another tough night, shooting 5-17 from the floor. Fatts Russsell had the ball a lot on Friday, but only converted three field goals. 

Ayala did have a big bucket at the end of the game, when he took a ball screen at the top of the key and rushed in for a layup.

“I think when he can get the ball in the middle of the floor, he’s really good, and he can get downhill,” Turgeon said.

Perhaps more ball screens for Ayala is an option. 

Of particular concern is the three point shooting and the lack of playmaking. Maryland had an assist-turnover ratio of less than one on Friday, with 15 assists and 16 turnovers. Both point guards, Russell and Ian Martinez, had as many or more turnovers as assists. 

And shooting the ball, Maryland shot 5-22 on the night from deep. The Terps came into the game ranked number 291 in all of college basketball in three point shooting percentage, and that did not improve tonight. 

With the defense it plays, Maryland should be able to run more, but it scored just nine fast break points in this one. This stat brings the question back to identity. If the Terps aren’t running, then who and what is going to give them quality possessions in the half court. For a while it looked like that identity would surround Wahab and their other frontcourt talents, but that option has diminished with the ways Maryland has been defended. Another one must emerge soon. 

They find ways to win

This team has shown some guts. According to players and coaches after Friday’s game, a big focus following the Terps loss to George Mason was on the energy and body language of the group. That seemed to pay off tonight, when they managed to claw back in a game where they seemed down and out. 

“We talked a lot about positive body language, and just being positive and uplifting your teammates and today we did that,” said Russell, who added that this change in attitude helped them later in the game. 

That attitude was evident at the end of the game, when a few key hustle plays made the difference. First, Ayala came up with a huge block that led to Ian Martinez being fouled and eventually hitting the game-winning free-throws. 

Then on the inbound play, Russell came up with a steal to finish off the game for Maryland. Despite all the offensive challenges, and some impressive shot-making from Hofstra, Maryland found a way. 

You can never count this team out because of their ability to find another level on defense. They routinely shut opponents out for minutes at a time, which always gives them a chance to win. 

The Terps must get better offensively, but as long as they lock it down on defense, and maintain proper attitudes, they have a chance to win. 

Maryland will see its next game action on Thanksgiving day, when they play Richmond in the Bahamas for the Baha Mar Hoops Championship.